Monday, October 5, 2009

Top Five Horror Classics everyone should read

As a huge fan of horror fiction, I am often asked, "What's a good place to start?" and considering we are now in the month of October, I get asked this a lot. So here are my five top horror classics everyone should read. A big part of why I chose these particular books is that each of them are great starting points in multiple ways (massively influential, very scary and short), so here we go:

5. The Werewolf of Paris, by Guy Endore (1933)
Set in France during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the novel follow Bertrand Caillet, a young man who suffers from a strange family illness and his attempts to escape his family curse. The book is full of dream imagery, sex, and violence. As Betrand falls under the family curse and finds what may be his only chance at true love his outbursts become bigger and more frightening. This book, the only one on the list most people may not have heard of, is a treat for the interested horror fan as it is a very readable book that asks the question right until the end - Is Bertrand actually a werewolf, or simply insane?

4. Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
Many people see this book as the first true werewolf novel, as although Henry Jekyll does not transform into a wolf, the book does focus on a man attempting to escape the actions and consequences of his other self, a creature which leaves murder and destruction in its path. This book was a huge influence on the creation of both The Hulk and the Batman villain Two-Face. The story actually asks a lot of pretty deep questions: If man is a creature of both good and evil, and the evil side could be removed, should we? How much of who we are actually comes from this evil side? The book is quite short (it's a novella) and is totally worth the day or two it would take to read it.

3.Frankenstein or, the modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley (1831)
First thing first - this book, considered by many to be the first Science Fiction novel was written by an eighteen-year-old girl. Any time people suggest to me that horror or SF is for boys, I always remind them that one of the most influential, frightening stories in both those genres the world has ever seen came out of the mind of a young woman. The book follows a story-within-a-story format, wherein an Arctic travelling ship rescues doctor Victor Frankenstein and in that ship, the captain is told the doctor's story. You probably read it in high-school, but this book is completely worth a revisit, as are the two original Universal pictures based on it.

2. Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)
What can I say here, the book awesome. Fitted together as diary entries, news clippings, and letters between friends. Acting like a vampire itself, the novel sucks you right in from the beginning and doesn't let you go. There is a reason why Dracula has been adapted for the movies more than any other character from literature and you have to read this book to get it. It's greatest weakness is that its Victorian-era characters tend to go off on little speeches, but it's greatest strength is that the book is a little different than you might remember, especially if all you remember are the movies.

1. The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells (1897)
Why do you ask, does this book beat out both Dracula and Frankenstein for me? Simple, Griffin, our main character, is just about one of the craziest, nastiest people I have ever read about. In the course of the novel he kills more people than any of the monsters in the other four books, and that doesn't even take into account the people he probably killed (for instance, he breaks into an old man's house, beats him nearly to death, ties him up and then throws him down a flight of stairs into an unheated basement - we never hear about the old guy again). Kevin Bacon actually said it best in one of my guilty pleasure horror film "Hollow Man" (2000) when he stated "It's amazing what you can do when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore."

So there you have it, five classic horror stories, none of them over 250 pages that will all do a pretty great job of giving you chills this Halloween season. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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